April 10: Liberation of Occupation?

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What you saw on TV..
Iraqis watch a statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein falling in Baghdad's al-Fardous (paradise) square(AFP/Patrick Baz)
What the Corporate media didn't told you..
Below that is a long-shot in which you can see the whole of Fardus Square (conveniently located just opposite the Palestine Hotel where the international media are based), and the presence of at most around 200 people - most of them US troops (note the tanks and armoured vehicles) and assembled journalists. (by Fozzy, IMC)

The images they choose, and choose to ignore
Robert Jensen
April 10, 2003


It was the picture of the day -- the toppling of a Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad -- and may end up being the picture of the war, the single image that comes to define the conflict.

The message will be clear: The U.S. liberated the Iraqi people; the US invasion of Iraq was just.

On Wednesday morning television networks kept cameras trained on the statue near the Palestine Hotel. Iraqis threw ropes over the head and tried to pull it down before attacking the base with a sledgehammer.
Finally a US armoured vehicle pulled it down, to the cheers of the crowd.

It was an inspiring moment of celebration at the apparent end of a brutal dictator's reign. But as US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has pointed out at other times, no one image tells the whole story. Questions arise about what is, and isn't, shown.

One obvious question: During live coverage, viewers saw a US soldier drape over the face of Hussein a US flag, which was quickly removed and replaced with an Iraqi flag.

Commanders know that the displaying the US flag suggests occupation and domination, not liberation. NBC's Tom Brokaw reported that the Arab network Al Jazeera was "making a big deal" out of the incident with the American flag, implying that US television would -- and should -- downplay that part of the scene. Which choice tells the more complete truth?

Another difference between television in the US and elsewhere has been coverage of Iraqi casualties.

Despite constant discussion of "precision bombing," the US invasion has produced so many dead and wounded that Iraqi hospitals stopped trying to count.

Red Cross officials have labeled the level of casualties "incredible," describing "dozens of totally dismembered dead bodies of women and children" delivered by truck to hospitals.

Cluster bombs, one of the most indiscriminate weapons in the modern arsenal, have been used by US and UK forces, with the British defense minister explaining that mothers of Iraqi children killed would one day thank Britain for their use.

US viewers see little of these consequences of war, which are common on television around the world and widely available to anyone with Internet access.

Why does US television have a different standard? CNN's Aaron Brown said the decisions are not based on politics. He acknowledged that such images accurately show the violence of war, but defended decisions to not air them; it's a matter of "taste," he said.

Again, which choice tells the more complete truth?

Finally, just as important as decisions about what images to use are questions about what facts and analysis -- for which there may be no dramatic pictures available -- to broadcast to help people understand the pictures.

The presence of US troops in the streets of Baghdad means the end of the shooting war is near, for which virtually everyone in Iraq will be grateful.

It also means the end of a dozen years of harsh US-led economic sanctions that have impoverished the majority of Iraqis and killed as many as a half million children, according to UN studies, another reason for Iraqi celebration.

And no doubt the vast majority of Iraqis are glad to be rid of Hussein, even if they remember that it was US support for Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980s that allowed his regime to consolidate power despite a disastrous invasion of Iran.

But that does not mean all Iraqis will be happy about the ongoing presence of US troops. Perhaps they are aware of how little the US government has cared about democracy or the welfare of Iraqis in the past.

Perhaps they watch Afghanistan and see how quickly US policymakers abandoned the commitment to "not walk away" from the suffering of the Afghan people.

Perhaps we should be cautious about what we infer from the pictures of celebration that we are seeing; joy over the removal of Hussein does not mean joy over an American occupation.

There is no simple way to get dramatic video of these complex political realities. But they remain realities, whether or not US viewers find a full discussion of them on television. --- Al Jazeera

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of "Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream."

1) Iraq ill-equipped to cope with a humanitarian crisis (4/7: Al-Jazeera)
2) Continuing fighting threatens to aggravate law and order crisis (4/10: Al-Jazeera)
3) Landmines pose risk to fleeing refugees (4/7: Al-Jazeera)

1) Iraq ill-equipped to cope with a humanitarian crisis
April 7, 2003
Amal Hamdan

Iraq will be hard pressed to cope with the humanitarian crisis now unfolding in the country, according to Angelo Gnaedinger, Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Gnaedinger warned that the coping mechanisms of the Iraqi population are weaker now than they were during the 1991 Gulf War.

"Many Iraqis are in a desperately difficult situation. The population has never been able to recover from the effects of two wars since 1980 and from the impact of the sanctions," he explained.

"Facilities to prepare drinking water and ensure adequate sanitation as well as hospitals are already now only functioning to a limited extent and would most likely be affected further by renewed war," he added.

If the United States succeeds in occupying Iraq it will be obligated under the Geneva Conventions to provide humanitarian goods to Iraqi civilians.

Humanitarian agencies have pre-positioned medical, food, and sanitation supplies across the region in Kuwait, Jordan, Iran, Syria and Turkey to respond to refugees. Gnaedinger said vehicles and drives have been positioned in neighbouring countries to assist in transporting humanitarian goods.

The ICRC will focus its efforts on internally displaced people, while the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will assist civilians fleeing Iraq, said Gnaedinger.

The UNHCR has predicted that some 600,000 Iraqis could flee, with half headed to Iraq and the rest to Turkey, Syria and Jordan. But aid agencies stressed the situation was highly unpredictable and there could be very few refugees or hundreds of thousands.

The United Nations food agency World Food Programme (WFP) said it stockpiled supplies throughout the region to feed up to 900,000 refugees for a period of two and a half months. WFP officials said a basic emergency package of 32,000 tonnes of food was needed for people fleeing to neighbouring countries.

But the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Ramiros Lopes Da Silva had warned that an Iraqi refugee crisis would be a "major catastrophe," saying the world body's medium scenario envisioned feeding 10 million people.

Amnesty International's legal advisor Mervat Rishmawi called on Iraq's neighbours to keep their borders opened to fleeing refugees, urging for fair procedures to determine their status. She expressed concern that refugees fleeing from Iraq would be screened at borders based on their ethnic, religious or political background.

"There should be no security procedures, like screening, for those fleeing Iraq that might obstruct their right to seek asylum in other countries," said Rishmawi.

Gnaedinger described humanitarian planning under military action as extremely difficult since it was unpredictable situation, adding ICRC personnel were experienced in dealing with a sudden increase of refugees. During the 1991 Gulf War, the ICRC and other humanitarian groups were able to mobilise hundreds of staff and thousands of tonnes of humanitarian goods within weeks, recalled Gnaedinger.

The ICRC is prepared to assist up to 150,000 internally displaced people for one month but is able to increase its assistance to cover up to 500,000 internally displaced people, he said.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have said the current operation in the region amounted to their "largest ever deployment."

UN aid agencies had warned they were unprepared for what they described as an imminent refugee crisis to crop up with the war in Iraq, pinning the blame on donor countries for not providing sufficient funds. Agencies said they need up to $123 million, the cost of four US Tomhawak cruise missiles, but have received a little more than a third of that.

2) Continuing fighting threatens to aggravate law and order crisis
April 10, 2003
Jay Garner, the designated administrator of Iraq for the foreseeable future, will make his way from Kuwait to Baghdad in the next couple of weeks to take control of the country.

The retired US general will head to Baghdad as interim administrator with his team once the shooting stops, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last night.

"They'll move to the Baghdad area at that point that the Baghdad airport is sufficiently secured to take a number of civilians who are not in a combat situation ... as the war and the kinetics decline," Rumsfeld said.

Garner and his team have been preparing for their role in administering Iraq for some time, but it could still be a while before the new administration move to the capital.

"There's a lot more fighting that's going to be done. There's more people are going to be killed," Rumsfeld predicted.
As if to underline his point this morning fresh clashes erupted on the northern banks of the Tigris in Baghdad claiming the life of one US marine and injuring 13.

Continued fighting may delay relocation to Baghdad and also set back attempts to restore law and order. Despite widespread looting and vigilantism, US and British troops have so far been reluctant to engage themselves in policing the cities they have captured.

Baghdadis today looted under the watchful eye of US Marines the luxury homes of senior figures of Saddam Hussein's regime, including his son Uday, an AFP correspondent reported.

The villas of Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, Saddam's daughter Hala, his half-brother Watban, and army generals, where Uday's villa was totally stripped except for a fixed wrought iron barbecue in the middle of the garden.

A truck outside Uday's house was laden with a huge oak table and gold chairs, while a painting of Saddam was left "We also found a photo album and an address book of names of young women he brought to his home to satisfy his filthy tastes," one looter said of Uday who once cruised the city looking for girls.

The street leading to Uday's luxury house, which was closed to traffic when the Iraqi regime controlled Baghdad's streets, was clogged with vehicles.

Around midday, a US army unit that had been stationed overnight at Tareq Aziz's home joked with a group of around 20 soldiers. As soon as the Americans left, the group rushed in to grab anything that came to hand.

In Basra local professionals have pleaded in vain with British marines to meet their commander to discuss the worsening security situation. Asked by a reporter if he felt safe, one of their number replied: "Bloody hell, no. Nobody does".

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Myers said his forces were working to restore public amenities but sounded much less assuring about moves to install a new administration.

"It really doesn't matter where general Garner and his group is because they are, in fact, acting now," he said .

"The restoration of water supplies in several southern towns, the restoration of electrical power grids, he's the one that is overseeing that work."

Nevertheless, it will facilitate the new governor of Iraq to be operating from the heart of the country and that this is likely to be a few days. Fighting has not yet ceased, according to the Defence Secretary.

"There is no question but that there are difficult and very dangerous days ahead and that the fighting will continue for some period," he told a Pentagon news conference.

It would be a boost for the new administration if they could finally draw a line under the former Iraqi President. "We still must capture, account for or otherwise deal with Saddam Hussein, his sons and the senior Iraqi leadership," Rumsfeld concluded.

3) Landmines pose risk to fleeing refugees
Cilina Nasser
April 7, 2003, Al-Jazeera

Thousands of Iraqi citizens fleeing their homes for safer areas in Iraq or neighbouring countries risk entering landmine-littered fields, experts and activists say.

"In a situation where you have a large number of refugees, it is likely that some people will be ignorant of the danger they are facing," said Michael Parker, who is the project manager in northern Iraq for Mine Advisory Group (MAG). "They might enter minefields," he said.

Iraq is peppered with eight to 12 million landmines and an unspecified number of unexploded mortars, shells, grenades and other deadly war debris, according to the UK-based MAG.

MAG has been operating in northern Iraq since 1992, clearing more than 91,000 mines and almost 346,000 unexploded ordnance as of January 2003.

A confidential UN document issued in December 2002 warned that the minefields would constitute "a formidable hazard to refugees and IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons)."

Heavily-mined areas are along the dividing line between the Saddam Hussein-controlled territory and the region of northern Iraq that has been autonomous from Baghdad and run by different Kurdish factions since the 1991 Gulf war.

Thousands of Iraqis are expected to cross this line and seek shelter in the north of the country. Parker voiced his concern over the possibility of people fleeing through the dividing line after sunset. "In the dark they might not be able to see the warning signs near minefields," he said.

MAG, which also conducts mine awareness activities, does not operate in the Baghdad-controlled territory due to Iraq's refusal to issue visas for its staff.

According to the UN document, the rural population has acquired some knowledge about living in a mine-infested environment, but most of the urban population does not have the information required.

"Even if we make all the information about landmines available, and even with demarcation, people knowingly and unknowingly will still enter minefields," Parker said.

Parker advised Iraqis who might cross into neighbouring countries or go to the Kurdish-held areas to avoid entering open ground. "People should stick to the roads and hard surfaces and refrain from touching anything."

The number of refugees expected to cross into neighbouring countries from Iraq are between 500,000 and 600,000, according to Ruud Lubbers, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The international agency does not count citizens seeking shelter within the borders of Iraq, considering them as IDPs.
Lubbers said last month that most refugees would probably head for Iran and Turkey, and a smaller number would probably go to Syria and Jordan.

Unlike during the1991 Gulf War in which most of the 1.3 million Iraqis who fled to Iran crossed from northern Iraq, authorities in the Islamic republic are this time expecting a flow of refugees from the southern part of the country.

Preparations are underway in Iran to host 200,000 to 250,000 refugees, said UNHCR public information officer, Fernando Delmundo. "Iranian authorities have identified 10 sites that would provide shelter to refugees, but preparations are going on in only three," Delmundo said.

The authorities would not open up the remaining camps until "the need arises" due to a shortage of funds, he said.
A possible emergency requires an initial $60 million to accommodate 600,000 refugees throughout the region. "This money will be allocated to cover setting up camps and for water, transportation and relief items such as blankets, jerry cans, tents and kitchen sets," Delmundo elaborated.

"We will provide supplementary food for the sick, the elderly, malnourished women and children. But the primary food needs will be handled by the World Food Programme," he said. He refused to give details on the amount of money that has been already granted by the donor states.

The three camps in Iran are located in the western provinces of Ilam and Kermanshah and the southern province of Khuzestan that borders mainly Iraqi Shiite areas. "They expect many people to come from there," Delmundo said. Other refugee camps will be set up when the need arises due to a shortage of funds.

Iran, the world's largest Shiite country, provides a haven for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shia Muslim group whose objective is to topple the Iraqi government.

The three provinces are strewn with hundreds of thousands of landmines that were laid during the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war. Iranian officials blame Iraq for planting 12-16 million landmines in an area of over four million hectares, according to the Landmine Monitor Report released last year by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

"There is a real threat for populations in the event of movements towards neighbouring countries, especially if temporary camps are set up inside Iraq along borders that are heavily contaminated with landmines," said Matthieu Soupart, head of the Mine Action Programmes at the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Delmundo said that Iranian officials have conducted clearance operations in the areas housing the camps. Still, the possibility that Iran might decide to close the border to prevent the flood of refugees from entering its territory could force them to enter Iran through landmine-infested areas.

"That's a possibility and we are very concerned," Delmundo said. On what could be done about it, he said: "Not very much. We have no access to the border. We only have access to the area where the camps are."

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